Memorial Day Every Morning

Since my mother passed away thirty years ago I have been attending morning services at my synagogue daily.  At first I came for the traditional eleven months of reciting the Kaddish*. At the end of that time I continued daily with rare exceptions so that there would be always be a minyan** for those who needed to say Kaddish long after I am gone. And I discovered that prayer is poetry, a few moments to find beauty and meaning in the world rather than immediately being swept up by prosaic, everyday routine. And it had dawned on me that there were thousands of Jews of my generation who might have discovered this for themselves and done the same but for the fact that they perished in the Shoah.  The three times per year holiday remembrances at Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shavuos and the yearly yartzeit on the anniversary of a loved one’s death fill in the void, but the daily minyan is the place for those who would have been reciting Kaddish but for the fact that they have been silenced.  And there is no one left to say Kaddish for them, so I have chosen to do that.

On Memorial Day, I express my deepest gratitude for those in the armed forces and in the resistance movements during World War II who made it possible for us to enjoy relative peace during the last sixty years.  But in the last couple of years, a new plague has engulfed the world: deadly attacks aimed at civilians in mosques, marketplaces and other public areas.  Just in the last few days we have seen an attack in front of the Brussels Jewish Museum that killed three people and critically injured another, and the death of a Pakistani woman who refused to marry the man her family selected for her and was mutilated and murdered in front of the court building by members of her family while a crowd of bystanders and police chose not to intervene.

The recent election to the European Parliament has shown an increase in support for right-wing parties, some of them with openly anti-Semitic platforms.  The Spring 2014 issue of “Moment” magazine grabbed my attention with its focus on anti-Semitism.  The startling statistic that 44% of high school students in Warsaw, Poland said they would not like to have a Jewish neighbor devastates me. These are students who are several generations away from pre-war Poland, who live in a society where there are few Jews.  Where do they get this attitude?  Home? School? Church?  Since they say they would not like to have Jews as neighbors, I wonder if Professor Einstein moved in next to them, what would they do? Would they move out? Would they attempt to drive him away?  The tragedy is that without knowing any individuals, these young people assume that an entire class of people would not be “good neighbors.”

So I am adding this to my reasons for mourning every morning.  I stand during the recitation of the Kaddish and recite a silent prayer for all of those for whom there is no one to say a prayer. Every morning I mourn for the deaths of those innocent people who are daily killed for no reason, victims of fanatic acts of violence.  And I am praying for the young people who do not understand that their attitudes towards those whom they do not know can result in such violence or in indifference towards those who would commit it. This is my way of ensuring that I enter each day with an eye towards avoiding complacency when encountering unexplainable violence.

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* Kaddish: a prayer praising God that is traditionally recited by those who have lost a close family member.

** Minyan: a gathering of at least ten people to pray together.  Ten are required in order to say the Kaddish.

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